Dr John Briffa: That sinking feeling

While a lot of the patients I see in my practice are not necessarily afflicted by serious illness, they are nonetheless bothered by niggling symptoms and conditions that can impinge quite significantly on the quality of their lives. Health complaints such as bouts of indigestion, the odd migraine, or the seasonal discomfort that comes with hay fever are hardly life-threatening. However, they are clear signals that not all is well within the body and are likely to sap an individual's sense of wellbeing.

One everyday ailment that seems particularly common is the mid-afternoon slump. Many of us experience a distinct downturn in physical and mental energies at about 3 or 4pm. For some, afternoon sluggishness can make the idea of cracking into some paperwork, or even stringing a few coherent thoughts together, seem quite unrealistic.

A lot of people view this post-lunch lull as a natural part of the daily cycle and something to which they must be resigned. However, my experience is that a bit of tinkering with the diet can often work wonders. In practice, it seems afternoon fatigue and lethargy is often rooted in physiological imbalance, specifically lower-than-normal levels of sugar in the bloodstream. For many, lunch will induce a surge of sugar in the bloodstream, which in turn stimulates the production of the sugar-lowering hormone, insulin. However, the higher the rise in blood sugar that follows lunch, the more likely the body is to overcompensate for this, leading to low blood-sugar levels about two or three hours later, causing brain and body energies to stall.

A major player in this phenomenon is the beloved lunchtime sarnie. Despite being predominantly starch, bread actually releases sugar quite quickly into the bloodstream. White bread is the worst offender in this respect, though wholemeal is not much better. The bottom line is that eating a sandwich, bap or baguette for lunch may well cause blood-sugar levels, and energy, to plummet later on.

Experience shows that a better lunch for many people is one that gives a slow and steady release of sugar into the bloodstream. Meals based on a decent chunk of protein-rich food (eg meat, fish, eggs) accompanied by some greenery and a limited amount of starch (eg bread, potato, rice or pasta) do seem to be far better for blood-sugar balance. Generally speaking, meat or fish with three veg, a chicken Caesar salad, a salad Ni├žoise, or a Spanish omelette and salad all represent sustaining lunchtime meals for those seeking to maintain their blood-sugar levels throughout the afternoon.

Experience shows that swapping our customary sandwich for a better-balanced meal for lunch often helps to keep energy levels buoyant in the afternoon, and may just stop us slipping into the twilight zone of health.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.